The house at 3360 Estero Boulevard is ready to be moved from its home of almost 100 years along Estero Blvd so that construction of two single-family homes can begin on the gulf-front lot.
The cottage, in the traditional beach style, holds one bedroom and one bath in its approximately 330 square feet — a tiny house long before HGTV made them popular. The tax rolls of Lee County list the property as being built in 1940, but it was more likely built as early as 1919.
The owner, Mike Huffman, is willing to donate the property so it can be preserved somewhere on the island. The most likely final resting place of the cottage will be in the vicinity of the Estero Island Historic Society’s Historic Cottages at the entrance to Matanzas Pass Preserve on Bay Road.
Some hope that it will join the Kenan Guest Cottage from Boca Grande in that general location. The Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board voted Wednesday, June 14th, after press time, on the relocation of that cottage to Matanzas Pass Preserve adjacent to the existing Historic Cottages. One of the cottages will serve as an education center for Matanzas Pass Preserve, a long-sought addition to the Preserve.
The Kenan Guest Cottage, also known as the Hepburn Cottage in a Boca Grande legend that says Katherine Hepburn stayed in the main house at the site, is a 1925 wood frame guest cottage that was originally 500 square feet, but was enlarged to 608 square feet. It is currently an outbuilding on a lot with a larger main building.
The owners of the Kenan Cottage have indicated that they will finance the cottage’s move to Fort Myers Beach, according to Matt Noble, Principal Planner for Fort Myers Beach.
Lee County is working with the Lee County School Board to obtain and prepare land for the Kenan Cottage. Jesse Lavender, Director of Lee County Parks, has been working with the various entities involved with the Boca Grande cottage acquisition. There is talk of making room for more than one cottage and even a ‘small village’ of cottages that would gather several historic cottages in one location. Matanzas Pass Preserve is owned by Lee County and abuts Fort Myers Beach Elementary School and Bay Oaks Recreation Center.
Both Town Council and the Local Planning Agency of the Town of Fort Myers Beach have discussed the placement of historic cottages at Matanzas Pass Preserve in recent meetings. At their April meeting, the LPA voted to support the acceptance of the donation of the Boca Grande cottage contingent on the purchase of land by the Preserve. They also supported the temporary storage of the 3360 Estero cottage at 1510 Estero Blvd until the site is ready. However the Town would not allow the cottage to be stored at that location.
From the Town’s point of view the placement of the two historic cottages would require permits, just as if they were new construction, Noble explained. The matter of elevation has not yet been decided. Will they be allowed to sit at ground level or will they need to be elevated? At this point there is much that is unknown – leases, permits, elevation, ownership, timing – so much so that most people we spoke to about the two cottages indicated that they aren’t even sure of what has to be done in order to move the project forward.
Ready to Roll
While details are worked out for the transport and placement of the Kenan Cottage, the Estero cottage is ready to roll. Owner Mike Huffman has been working with local realtor and developer Joe Orlandini to preserve the cottage. Orlandini has donated his time and the costs to raise the house, stabilize it and will move it to a holding location.
With no site prepared to receive the cottage in Matanzas Pass Preserve, we asked where the Estero cottage will be stored until all the details of placement at the preserve are worked out.
“I have a location over the bridge where I can store it,” he explained. “While it’s in storage, I plan to rehab the house – paint it, put in some reinforcements. I plan to bring in engineers, the same ones I’ve used to reinforce the cottage to make this move possible.”
The move will be a sight to behold but Islanders will most likely have to lose some sleep to see it, as the tentative plan is to move it in the middle of the night to minimize traffic impact.
“The house is so small that actually there’s room for one lane of traffic next to it, but I don’t know how the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will handle traffic,” Orlandini explained.
With the road owned by the county and the bridge by the state, Lee County referred Orlandini to the Florida DOT for approval for the move. They required the dimensions of the house and the equipment to move it, which took his staff two days to pull together.
The house weighs about 10,000 – 12,000 lbs. or 5-6 tons and is about 24’ x 25’. The FDOT signed off on the move and Orlandini now only needs to work with the LCSO to schedule it.
While the exact terms of the Estero cottage donation are worked out, Orlandini has been gathering the support of others in the construction business to donate their time and effort to the cause.
“I’m hoping we can move this project along so we can make this happen for Fort Myers Beach!”
The concept of an area on the island with a few traditional beach cottages is one that has captured the imagination of many, including Orlandini.
“It would be really nice to have two or four or five beach cottages together there,” he said.
Coming from someone who has built a lot of new residential properties on the Island, his devotion to preserving the Island’s character may come as a surprise to some. He addressed that this week.
“As much as I build new stuff here on Fort Myers Beach and I love building new, I love the character of the island too and there has to be a balance – a balance between preservation and new,” Orlandini said. “That’s why, if I get the chance to preserve an older building, I’ll do it.
“That balance is critical – new helps the economy grow, but you also have to preserve your history because without history, you lose that balance.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work with the Estero Island Historic Society and help save our Island’s history. Someday, my kids will be able to walk over to see these cottages and what our Island homes looked like years ago. That’s what preservation is all about!”